Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is a conservative Democrat representing one of our reddest states. One key reason he was elected is that the voters believe he will follow his conscience and not the party line. And West Virginia voters believe that he thinks the way that they do about important issues, like energy.
Manchin believes that the Senate should operate collegially, with a minimum of conflict. He feels that senators should put what is right before what is politically correct. He wants the Senate to be the sort of club that it was thought to be 60 years ago, when Republican and Democrat senators would argue their points on the floor, but then go out for dinner and a drink together that evening. In this way, he is idealistic, if not entirely pragmatic. And idealism is something that we should all admire, in the abstract at least.
But we live in the real world, not a romanticized notion of a perfect world.
So, while acknowledging these facts, we also should realize that it’s increasingly clear that Manchin is becoming the major impediment to our recently elected president enacting his national agenda as outlined in his recent speech to the nation. In many ways, Manchin the Democrat is acting as a roadblock to Joe Biden, similar to how Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the GOP Senate’s Grim Reaper, did to Barack Obama.
Specifically, Manchin refuses to abolish or significantly modify the filibuster. For example, restricting its use to specified topics or lowering the number required to approve a bill down from 60 votes. In effect, he is saying that he cannot support anything that at least 10 GOP senators will not vote for. And that’s about as contrarian a view as any Democrat senator could possibly hold, especially when many of the Biden proposals have significant bipartisan support, not with D.C. GOP politicians, but rather with Republican voters.
For example, Biden’s very popular American Rescue Plan was pushed through under reconciliation (i.e., 50 votes needed for passage) because there were virtually no GOP senators who would vote for it. Yet, a CBS poll found that only 38% of Republican voters polled thought the bill was spending too much rather than too little or just right. The figures were even lower for Independents (22%) and Democrats (6%).
Biden’s new infrastructure plan (covering trains, bridges, roads, internet access and much more) also is widely popular with the American public, with 68% supporting it versus only 29% opposing it, according to a Monmouth poll. However, support from Democrats (94%) and Independents (69%) is much higher than Republicans (32%).
So far, consistent with his idealistic bipartisan stance, Manchin has stated that he will not support using reconciliation to pass the infrastructure bill. Therefore, 10 GOP senators must vote for it to become law.
However, the practical effect of Manchin taking this position is that he’s voting contrary to the way that 68% of Americans see the infrastructure issue. And he’s voting against what 94% of his fellow Democrats want to see passed in regard to infrastructure.
Will Manchin see the light and become more of a pragmatist? Or will he be content to continue to block his own party’s agenda by insisting on 60 votes for passage of any legislation? Only time will tell.